Album Review: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals – “The Lion The Beast The Beat”

gracepotter_lionNearly two minutes into the title cut of their new The Lion The Beast The Beat album, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals break into Who-like power chords and drop in a disco-like backbeat (“can’t stop the beat”). It becomes a huge sound, with a reaching-for-an-anthem quality – like Heart or Pat Benatar might do in their prime.

The new album is less of the blues, and more a full body leap into radio-friendly, pop music, with disco-like thumps and sweeping choruses. Yet it is still a record that rocks and can move listeners within the big sounds and lyrical turns, especially effective when Potter bares her emotions, mixing her strong female worldview with little girl hurt.

The Lion The Beast The Beat will either be a breakthrough album, or a overreaching stumble along the career path.

There’s no doubting Potter’s majestic voice – whether a whisper or a shout, hers is one of the great sounds in rock.

While her 2010 self-titled album featured Grace and the band in a black and white cover photo, the new record’s art is more art, less grit.  And that’s the sound of the music, especially compared to the pretty-and- loose outing the last record.

“Never Go Back” dives into programmed beats and loops, with Potter’s voice rescuing the piece with her cooing, razor-edged vocals.

“Stars” is a beautiful, acoustic–based tune of redemption, with gorgeous piano and soaring vocals.  It appears twice, the second time as a bonus track duet with Kenny Chesney.

gracepotter_band

“One Heart Missing” is a winner, taking a  U2 arena rock trajectory to hurt and love.

“Parachute Heart” echoes Fleetwood Mac, sounding much like Nicks and Buckingham, circa Rumors.

Is this latest release a grasp at finding a more wide-ranging fanbase, or will it alienate her current fans?  Hard to say, because her voice is still something marvelous in rock and roll. In the end, music is always redeemed in the live performance, and Potter and her band are a great live band.

“Turntable” bites like the Potter of old, with an urgent guitar strapped to a disco beat.

The album is a pot of new sounds with a whiplash personality, breaking a blues and rock stereotype that may have existed with the band’s listeners.

Producer Jim Scott, best known as a go-to engineer and mixer for bands wanting an earthy, homegrown but polished sound (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Wilco, the Tedeschi Trucks Band), helms the majority of the record.  The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach produced and co-wrote the track “Loneliest Soul”, “Never Go Back” (the first single) and “Runaway”, bring that band’s sound to Potter.

Looking universal truths, the lyrics are sometimes buried by more musical weight the songs can shoulder.  Much of the record feels like it is trying to make a “grand statement”; simplicity lost in the chase for a bigger sound.

Still, it is a record that blossoms through repeated listens, softening the new layered sound we get from the guitar-drums-and-keys rockers.

Potter closes the album with a duet with Willie Nelson on her song “Ragged Company”, originally from her 2005 Nothing But Water album.  The majesty of the song and the brilliance of Willie lend gravity to the music and the pairing serves as reminder that as Grace Potter and The Nocturnals are growing, they can do it without forgetting a simpler past.

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